Prime Ministers Jadranka Kosor and Borut Pahor signed the agreement on arbitrage in the border dispute between the two countries in Stockholm, Sweden an hour ago. This brings the process almost back to the point it had once already reached with the Drnovšek-Račan agreement of 2001. This time around, however, we do not have a final solution, but rather an agreed mode of seeking the solution in front of a court of arbitrage. However, once the agreement is signed, it will have to be ratified by both parliaments. Specifically, this means that Croatian parliament will have to support the agreement with a 2/3 majority, whereas Slovene parliament will need to secure a relative majority of all MPs present at the time of the vote. In case of Slovenia, this is where it gets interesting.
Pahor and Kosor sign the deal, witnessed by Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt (source)
After parliamentary committee on foreign relations supported the agreement yesterday (enabling PM Pahor to sign the deal), opposition leaders started talking about holding a referendum. Technically, it should be a cakewalk. All that would be required are 30 MPs (a third of the parliament) formally requesting the referendum. Between Janez Janša’s Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) with 28 votes, Radovan Žerjav’s Slovene People’s Party (SLS) with seven and Zmago Jelinčič’s Slovene National Party with five votes, this should really not be a problem.
However. A little birdie told pengovsky yesterday that Janez Janša is not at all keen on a referendum. Janša himself said as much later in the evening after appearing on state television and saying that it will probably come to a referendum, but as a result of a civil initiative. Which means that SDS will not chip in their 30 MPs, but will let SLS and SNS collect 40.000 signatures needed to hold a consecutive referendum on ratification of the Pahor-Kosor agreement.
Why is that? We’ve touched upon the answer in yesterday’s post. By signing the agreement PM Pahor basically put all of his eggs in one basket, crucially exposing himself and (by extension) his coalition. Should the agreement fail one way or the other, he will probably have to resign. Janša obviously sensed that and is doing plenty to make this happen. However. As former PM and having been humiliated by former Croatian PM Ivo Sanader on the border issue (Ivo Sanader famously cajoling him into accepting international law as the sole point of reference in solving the dispute), Janša knows perfectly well just how fantastically complicated a quagmire this border dispute actually is. So Janša is looking to bring down the government by beating Pahor over his head by repeating incessantly just how bad this agreement is, but stopping short of shooting down the agreement itself, hoping that SLS and SNS will do the dirty work for him.
The nationalist are in this probably just for fun, because their “postmodern” politics allows them to quicky adopt a new political platform, which does not necessarily correspond with anything they’ve advocated to date. All they need is an unoccupied political niche which will bring enough votes. If the dispute is solved, my bet is that they will either run on a platform of protecting Slovenian minorities in neighbouring states or start advocating some far fetched “solution” for the economic crisis.
As we noted yesterday, SLS is following its own agenda, which is basically very simple. Solving the border dispute would deprive them of a big part of their political platform, so it is in their vital interest that the agreement does not come to fruition. Basically, they’re fighting for survival. And this is where it gets complicated, as SLS’ political demise is one the of not-so-covert mid-term goals of Janez Janša. His ambitions to be the sole political factor on the political right (the only one worth mentioning, at the very least) were nearly fulfilled in 2008 elections, where he squeezed his junior coalition partner Christian Democratic Nova Slovenija (NSi) out of the parliament. The party didn’t make the 4% cut, a fate SLS (the other Janša’s coalition partner) only narrowly avoided.
Things get an additional thrust when one takes into account the fact that municipal elections are less than a year away. Municipal (local) elections are interpreted as a mid-term measure of strength of political parties. And although people tend to read too much into them, they can have a huge psychological impact. And this time around, autumn 2010 can be a turning point for future development of political right in Slovenia.
Namely, NSi is desperate to stage a comeback. They managed to hold on to the fringes of the political arena by their fingernails by winning a single seat in this year’s European elections and are desperate for a strong showing on local level, which would give them enough base and confidence to try to re-enter parliament in 2012 (which would be a first, by the way. Until now, once a party dropped out of the parliament, it stayed there). Given the fact that their near-death experience left an unhealthy vacuum in the Christian democratic niche of the political spectrum, they actually stand a chance, since both SDS and SLS have failed to move in and fill the vacuum completely. But the question is if there’s enough space left for them (errr… right for them… errr… nevermind…)
On the other hand, Janša and his SDS will want to reassert their dominance over SLS and NSi as well as stick one up Pahor’s ass and score an all-round victory. Which is not all that unlikely a prospect given the fact that the government’s ratings are going south as it is and that a rebound is nowhere in sight. In a year’s time the Pahor-Kosor agreement will again become a hot political potato, provided Pahor survives the referendum or at the very least avoids one in the near future. By autumn 2010 Croatia will probably have finished the negotiations and the ratification process will begin. Which is the trigger for the actual arbitrage proceedings to start, which will then cue in vicious rhetoric on betrayal of national interest and that is very much likely to hurt the electoral result of Pahor’s Social Democrats and of the ruling coalition as a whole.
So, what we’re seeing today is actually a multi-way chess game with everyone playing against everyone else simultaneously. Slovenian government against Croatian government. Then we have Slovenian government against Slovenian opposition, which is aiming to destabilise the government by undermining the treaty. Then we have the three opposition parties against each other, each with its own agenda. Putting all of this together, it can start a chain-reaction which will culminate in local elections, where finally, we have the ruling coalition which will want to capitalise on their election victory and score major points in local communities as well, with the opposition looking to hurt the coalition as much as possible.
And suddenly, a year from now, we might end up with a significantly different political landscape, regardless of the fact that things looked boringly predictable only a week ago. And the Pahor-Kosor agreement signed today can be a catalyst for all of it.